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Diabetes and Heart Disease

For people with diabetes, heart disease is a common and serious health condition. If you have diabetes, it's important to understand your heart disease risk and what you can do to lower it.

Diabetes and Heart Disease Statistics

Over the years, high blood sugar slowly causes damage to blood vessels throughout the body. This is especially true in the heart and brain. As a result, heart disease and stroke are two of the most important health risks for people with diabetes.

If you or someone you love has diabetes, here are some of the statistics you need to know about heart disease and diabetes:

  • Heart disease strikes people with diabetes almost twice as often as people who don't have diabetes.
  • People with diabetes tend to develop heart disease at a younger age than people without diabetes.
  • Two out of three people with diabetes die from either heart disease or stroke.

Compared to people without diabetes, people with diabetes are at about two to four times the risk for stroke. Stroke is a serious health risk for people with diabetes. But it affects fewer people overall than heart disease.

Types of Heart Disease in People With Diabetes

People with diabetes are at risk for two main types of heart disease:

Coronary artery disease (CAD). This refers to the slow narrowing of the arteries in the heart by fatty deposits, called plaques. If a cholesterol plaque suddenly ruptures, the resulting blockage in one of the heart's arteries causes a heart attack.

Congestive heart failure. This is a chronic condition in which the heart loses the ability to pump blood effectively. Shortness of breath with exertion and leg swelling are the main symptoms of heart failure.

These heart conditions are often related. For instance, CAD is a major cause of congestive heart failure. High blood pressure, common in people with diabetes, can also contribute to CAD and heart failure.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease and Diabetes

Certain risk factors elevate the risk of heart disease, especially in people with diabetes.

Many people with diabetes have a group of risk factors for heart disease known as metabolic syndrome. And having diabetes as part of metabolic syndrome increases the risk of heart disease even more than diabetes alone. Metabolic syndrome adds several risk factors to the risk of high blood sugar, including:

  • Abdominal obesity -- a waistline greater than 35 inches in women or 40 inches in men.
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels -- a low HDL "good" cholesterol, a high LDL "bad" cholesterol, or a high triglyceride level.
  • Elevated blood pressure.

All these risk factors are related, and they tend to occur together. For example, obesity makes diabetes more likely, and most people with diabetes also have high blood pressure.

In addition, other factors can increase the risk of heart disease for people with diabetes even more. They include:

  • Smoking
  • Having a family member with heart disease
  • A diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol

If you have diabetes, talking with your doctor can help identify your personal risk for heart disease.

WebMD Medical Reference

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Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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